May 2, 2017

Mexican - Time Machine Tex-Mex (Mexican Food, Circa 1960's Era)

This year, I chanced to check out the new Casa Vieja Mexican restaurant on Fulton in the location that housed the original Doneraki's for many years.

Anyone who has seen the movie, Ratatouille, knows the famous scene where the dish of ratatouille transports for restaurant critic back to his childhood.

Tex-Mex can have the same effect on me. Truthfully, there are a lot of things to not like about the mess that we call the combination dinner. Too much salt. Too much grease. No vegetables to speak of. Artery clogging cheese and meat. And I have joked that if an alien was dropped into Texas and served up a big old mess of Tex-Mex, he might remark, "What the heck is this on my plate?"

But for those of us who grew up here, Tex-Mex seems very right and we love it. As a kid, my family ate at an El Patio on Telephone at Park Place at least twice a week.

In the eighties, new menu items started appearing and certainly there are now many restaurants that offer fare more typical of the food of northern Mexico and other regions.  For example, the menu at the charming Morales on 76th Street could as easily be the menu of a small comedor (eatery) in Monterrey, Mexico.

With my recent very positive experience with what I fondly call Retro Tex-Mex at Casa Vieja, I thought that I would put together a list of 12 places that, if one could time travel back to 1960's Houston, these would be the combination plates that one might be served.

Now, I know that my suggestions are going to generate a lot of "why did you choose that place and not this place" comments in the comments section. Well, this is not an exclusive list. It's a starting point for your explorations around town. Some you will probably recognize. Others may be off your radar and new to you. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

And so, here begins my list, a list of restaurants where that combo plate will have frijoles refritos, arroz a la Mexican, a flour/oil/chili powder "chili" gravy to cover the enchiladas and tamales. The tortillas for the enchiladas will have been dipped in hot out to soften and then stacked until ready to use. The rice will be slightly red from tomatoes, seasoned with cumin and hopefully, light and fluffy. The beans may be watery or slightly thick and probably made with pinto beans. If you are lucky, the crispy taco shell will be puffy and inflated like a balloon (Los Tios and Fiesta Loma Linda are the only places that I know of that still do these).

Here is a link to the update to this article, published at Houston Food Finders:

Houston Food Finder - Houston Retro Tex-Mex Link

El Real Tex-Mex #7
1201 Westheimer Road

Many of the recipes at El Real came from Robb Walsh's (The Tex-Mex Cookbook) lifelong love affair with the history of and recipes of classic Tex-Mex. The flour and corn tortillas here are excellent. Be sure to go upstairs and check out the Jay Francis Collection of Tex-Mex memorabilia.

Don Key Mexican Restaurant
5010 Spencer Highway, Pasadena
Established in 1984. I came across this time warp treasure via their billboard on Old Galveston Road that I noticed one day when driving back into Houston.

Los Tios (Beechnut)
4840 Beechnut Street

Los Tios is a Houston institution and one of only two places that still make the puffy and crispy taco that was once very typical of Houston Tex-Mex. This location on Beechnut is a favorite.

Don Teo's
2026 W. 34th Street

The story of Don Teo's is pretty interesting. This location was one of the original Monterey Houses in Houston, this one franchised to Don Covington. Now in his 80's, he still comes by for Tex-Mex every week. The Martinez family that own it now, Don Teo and his son, Teo Jr., worked for decades for the Monterey House chain. Junior began as a kid and worked his way through the various stations of a restaurant. He is an absolute delight to chat with and we recommend to be sure to say "Hi" when you visit.

El Paraiso (on Fairview in Montrose)
2320 Crocker Street

El Paraiso, too, prepares class Tex-Mex, and also offers house made moles and a few northern Mexico regional dishes.

Don Carlos (on 76th Street)
416 76th Street

On the east side of town, what is becoming known as Eado, though, we prefer the name Canaviburg,
Don Carlos has a long history of serving Tex-Mex.

Mi Sombrero
3401 N. Shepherd at 34th Street

Mi Sombrero offers classic Tex-Mex dishes and like Don Teo, serves the Garden Oaks and Shepherd/Ella area of Houston.

Fiesta Loma Linda
2111 Telephone Road

Our favorite because of the classic, Houston style puffy tacos that they continue to make and make well. Originally a classic diner, the owners friendship with the owners of the now long gone Loma Linda Restaurant by Palms Center, follow the original Loma Linda recipes. And they still make the classic praline on premises. You will get one when your check comes. 

Lopez Mexican Restaurant
11606 Wilcrest Drive

Another historically significant, classic Tex-Mex institution. This one serves the Stafford, Hwy 59 at Wilcrest Houston area.

Monterey House (Beaumont, Texas)
1109 S 11th Street, Beaumont, Texas

The holy grail. The mecca for lovers of classic, retro Tex-Mex. The franchisee bought the rights to the recipes of the original Monterey House chain in the 60's and continues to duplicate the original recipes. A must stop for anyone travelling east on Highway 10 through Beaumont. For more details, please see this link:
Monterey House - Beaumont

Larry's (Richmond, Texas)
116 E Highway 90A, Richmond

Larry Guerrero worked for Felix Tijerina back in the day, and, when he expressed interest in creating his own Mexican restaurant, Mr. Tijerina provided assistance. Ninfa Laurenzo also offered help in exchange for his buying his masa products from their family tortilleria off of Navigation.
Be sure to pick up a Larry's t-shirt when you visit. It is one of the coolest looking t-shirts in Texas.

La Hacienda (Memorial)
14759 Memorial Drive

If you grew up in the Memorial area, your family probably went to "La-Ha" at least once a week. It is a Tex-Mex institution for Memorialites.

Fried Chicken - The Best Fried Chicken Recipe

Back in 2013, I set out to reverse engineer the recipe for Gus's Fried Chicken (Memphis, Tennessee). I came close on several occasions and re-dedicated myself to cracking the code this year. A recent visit to Memphis allowed me to give the chicken one more taste, being able to pull data from my experiments and reach a final conclusion.

Here follows the recipe. It is based on just one boneless, skinless chicken breast weighing in at 1 pound, and cut into three pieces. It can be adjusted for larger quantities of chicken.

Here is the link to The Fried Chicken Blog (More Information and Comments)

Gus’s Fried Chicken
#1 November 17, 2017
 24 hour marinade. Begin the day before you plan to fry the chicken
(Increase these quantities, depending on how much chicken you plan to make)
1 lb (one) boneless skinless chicken breast cut into three pieces
1 cup corn starch
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup water (note: 1 ½ cups is too much. I actually ended up with 1 ¼ cup water and poured off a little water in the morning that had gathered on top of the marinade)

Marinade for 24 hours.

Fry at 325-350 F. Use a neutral vegetable or corn oil. I do not recommend canola oil as it smells like frying fish and adds an unpleasant fish taste to fried foods.

Note, when the exterior crust looks perfect, the interior may still be uncooked. It is the curse of these huge chickens that they sell now. Try your best to buy a 2.5-3 lb chicken.

If it isn't spicy enough, "salt" with Tony Chachere creole seasoning. Next time you make it, increase the amount of cayenne, and/or, add chopped whole serrano chiles or habanero chiles to the marinade.

Now, it is possible that you don't want to fry chicken at home and you are asking, "Where does Jay go in Houston for fried chicken?"
If people are visiting from out of town, I will take them to Barbecue Inn on Crosstimbers at Yale, as it is historically significant and a Houston institution. We don't get barbecue here. We get fried chicken.

Frenchies is another historically significant Houston destination for fried chicken. For my taste, it is too salty. But I am in the minority. Frenchies on Scott Street near TSU should definitely be on your list to try.

May 1, 2017

Oldest Restaurants in Houston

Some of these still exist, or the families do, with Houston restaurant families into their 3rd or even 4th generation such as the Carabba's, Christies, Adairs, Vallones, Laurenzos, and more. Recently I came across a very good FB posting from Katherine Leigh Ermis and Kevin Lacobie and its really good comment sections on this subject and I thought I would preserve it here.

But to start off, here is Natalie Dressman's article:
Oldest Houston Restaurants

In addition, I know that the Houston Architects Forum has an ongoing discussion of older Houston restaurants.

Defunct Houston Restaurants - Houston Architecture Forum

Back in the day, the Felix Mexican Restaurant on Westheimer had a framed article on Houston dining and I wish I had a copy of that as it listed all of the popular restaurants, circa 1970's.

Another excellent source for information on Houston restaurants that may no longer exist are the Ann Criswell series of Houston Is Cooking and Houston Gourmet books, which show up from time to time in the resale shops in Houston.

Ann Criswell - Houston Is Cooking Books

Thanks, as always, to Gregory Buchold for pursuing and investigating this topic in greater detail. Check out the phenomenal job that Greg has done on Pinterest of documenting these with photos.

Greg has the Pie-Biting Frog website here:

Gregory Buchold - The Pie-Biting Frog

And...Here is a link to his Pinterest photos list of older Houston restaurants:

Greg's Photos Page of Older Houston Restaurants in Pinterest

Greg Buchold's List of Older Houston Restaurants

Thanks, also, go to Russell Weil who wrote the following excellent article for Buzzfeed:

Russell Weil - Restaurant Memories

Katherine Leigh Ermis got the ball rolling on Facebook:

Jay's Facebook Link

Ethnic Markets and Grocery Stores - Houston

Ethnic Markets Tour – Houston
A Self Guided Tour of the Interesting Markets in Houston
Created by Jay Francis  (contact me at for any assistance or information on my home town, Houston)

1.     Canino’s Market and El Bolillo Bakery – Airline Location
2.     Dairymaids Cheeses – Airline Location
3.     Dulces Mexicanas – Airline Location
4.     Flores Spices – Airline Location
5.     Asia Market Thai and Lao Grocers – Cavalcade Location
6.     Penzey’s Spices – 19th Street Location
7.     Nundini’s Italian – Shepherd Location
8.     Fiesta Grocery Store – Wayside Location
9.     Phoenicia – Downtown Location
10.  Spec’s Liquors – Smith Street Location
11.  British Market – Rice Village Location
12.  Gusto Gourmet – Venezuelan – S. Shepherd Location
13.  Russian General Store – Hillcroft Location
14.  Belden’s Grocery – Braeswood Location in Meyerland/Bellaire
15.  Golden Grain – Russian – Birdwood Road Location
16.  Droubi’s – Hillcroft Location
17.  Maru Ethiopian Grocery Store – Bissonet Location
18.  Golden Grain – Russian – Birdwood Location
19.  Caribbean Cuisine – Jamaican patties and some Caribbean products
20.  Istanbul Market (Now Closed)
21.  Savoy Food Market – Wilcrest Location
22.  Acacia Food Mart – Turkish – Wilcrest Location
23.  Subhlaxmi Indo-Pak Grocers – Hillcroft at 59
24.  Chandrika Masala – Hillcroft at 59
25.  Super Vanak – Iranian - Hillcroft Location
26.  Patel Brothers – Hillcroft Location
27.  Parivar – Harwin Location
28.  Paayal for Indian stainless steel cookware – Savoy off of Harwin
29.  Viet Hoa – Beechnut Location
30.  Sun’s Club – Beechnut Location
31.  Acacia – Turkish – Wilcrest Location
32.  Jusgo Grocers – Bellaire Blvd. Location
33.  H-Mart – Bellaire Blvd. Location
34.  Ten Ren Tea Shop – Bellaire Location
35.  San San Tofu – Bellaire Location
36.  Hong Kong City Mall – Bellaire Blvd. Location
37.  Pita Plus – Eastern European Market – Westheimer Location
38.  Phoenicia – Westheimer Location
39.  Nippon Daido – Japanese – Westheimer Location
40.  Polonia – Blalock Location
41.  H-Mart – Blalock Location
42.  Ranch 99 – Blalock Location
43.  Fiesta Grocery Store – Wirt Road Location

Airline Drive Flea Market Complex
Guild Shop – Dunlavy Location
Path of Tea – West Alabama Location
Kuhl-Linscomb – West Alabama Location
Eastside Farmer’s Market – Saturday Morning – Richmond Avenue Location
That Indo-Pak International Grocery on Highway 6
Mi Tienda – Highway 59 Location and Spencer Highway – Pasadena Location
D&Q – Belgian Beers
Central Market – Westheimer Location
Gusto Gourmet – Venezuelan Market

African Grocery Stores and Markets (Not Visited)
Wazobia Market
Trinity African Food Store
G&J African Market
Kings and Queens African Store
African Grocers

Hebert’s (Two Locations – Dairy Ashford and Richmond)
Burt’s Meat Market – Lyons Avenue

Vom Fass – Rice Village
Savory Spices – Rice Village

Flores Spices – Airline Location

Mexican Market Tour - Houston

Ethnic Market Tour Houston – Mexican Markets

Recently, I had the pleasure to put together a little tour of my favorite places for Mexico related food and shopping here in Houston for my friend, Mely Martinez (

Mely and her husband and son had decided to come down to Houston for a few days of vacation. Now, Houston is not really a tourist destination in my opinion; compared to, say, Austin or San Antonio. We do have some wonderful museums and some outsider art venues that are world class. But, Houston is kind of a business and industry kind of place.

However, Houstonians have found that the best way to socialize with friends is over food and this, plus the incredible multi-culturalism of Houston has led to a city with amazing selections of places to dine, of every ethnicity and of every price range.

Whole areas of our town have sprung up around dining:

Bellaire Boulevard – Chinese and Vietnamese (incorporating Beechnut and Bissonnet now)

Hillcroft Street – Indian and Pakistani primarily, but also Persian and Middle Eastern

Long Point Road – Korean and Central American

Airline Drive – Mexican

Harrisburg – Mexican

Scott / Cullen / OST – African-American

But on this particular meet-up with Mely (Facebook friends for several years, first physical meeting), we focused on Mexico!

Our tour began on Airline Drive, and this is the route that I am mapping out for you today:

El Bolillo Bakery (2518 Airline Drive) ( - The person that started El Bolillo had a doughnut shop or two, originally in Galveston. His workers were from Mexico and one day they suggested to him that if he opened a Mexican bakery, they would join him and make all of the types of breads of Mexico. This is the default bakery for Mexican breads and your jaw will drop when you see the selection here. It is a beautiful venue and very pleasing to just hang out.

And then, a walk across the street to the Canino’s Farmer’s Market complex (2520 Airline Drive) ( Canino’s has been Houston’s market since 1958. The Farmer’s Marketing Association is a private corporation whose shareholders are the original farmers or their descendants. As you walk through the complex, you will discover all things Mexican: dry goods like molcajetes, masa grinders, toys, piƱatas, and more; food products associated with Mexico like dried chiles, huazontle, flor de calabaza, chepil, cilantro, tropical fruits and more.

Next, cross back over the street to Lone Star Culinary (formerly Flores Spices and still owned by the same family) (1299 Gibbs at Airline). Recently remodeled, the place looks fantastic. Here, you will find any spice you could think of and much more, in the way of specialty products.  Special note: the Houston location of Penzey’s Spices is also located in the Heights at 516 W 19th Street.

And now, across the street again the Carniceria Teloloapan for shopping or something to eat (2430 Airline Drive). And then, next door to Reyes Produce (2426 Airline Drive) for a look see at their extensive collection of cookware, candies, dried chiles, and more.

Finishing up, we now head south on Airline for a stop at the local cheese purveyors: Houston Dairy Maids (2201 Airline Drive) (

And then, across the street to Tampico Seafood (2115 Airline Drive) ( for a huachinango. You will pick your fish from their market section, which will then be grilled a la plancha style and served on a bed of grilled onions and bell peppers with a side of fries or fried rice (a Tampico tradition from the large Chinese population there). They have a full bar and other food choices too.

We continue south on Airline Drive crossing Cavalcade (just to the west on Cavalcade is the Asia Grocers, featuring Thai, Lao, Cambodian goods and serving food as well) and come to the best candy store, Delicias Mexicanas (1777 Airline Drive) (, your one stop shop for traditional Mexican candies including glorias, dulce de leche, cajeta, hard candies, candied fruits and more. Reyes Produce also carries sweets, so you can cost compare at both places if you wish.

Further south, where Airline Drive dead-ends into North Main, three recommended restaurants: Spanish Flowers Mexican Restaurant, Teotihuacan Mexican Restaurant, and Pinkerton’s Barbecue (quickly turning into one of the top five places for barbecue in Houston)

The tour is finished. Turning west on North Main will take you to the Heights via 20th and turning east will take you to I-45. Both of which will have even more interesting places to shop and eat. But we will save those for another time.